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Top 10% income

The average earnings of those in the top 10% were roughly $173,000 in 2020, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Landing in the top 10% is a fairly attainable goal for upwardly mobile Americans.

As the lastest available data reflects the household’s top wage earner, you’re looking at quite a jump from Americans in the first 90%, who according to the EPI earned an average of $40,000 in 2020.

There’s also a significant jump between the bottom and the top of 10% earners. Those in the bottom half made about $133,500 in 2020, where those in the top half pulled in $223,000.

There is another side to this, though. Studies also show that while it may take less to fall into a top percent bracket, wage gaps overall are only getting worse, especially as they fail to keep up with inflation — making advancing your family’s status less attainable for middle-class hopefuls these days.

More: What's the take-home pay on a $100,000 salary?

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Top 5% income

Salaries start to jump significantly the closer you get to the top 1%. You’ll start to see dramatic shifts in the top 5%, where the EPI found the average earners significantly increased to $343,000 in 2020, up from $324,000 the year before.

While that’s certainly a lot, there’s a growing trend of even more cash flowing to — flooding even — those at the top of the heap.

Top 1% income

What about, say, the top 1%?

Their wages jumped an astounding 20% between 2009 and 2019, and they pulled down $824,000 in 2020, up 7% from the previous year. That well beat out inflation over the same period, which clocked in at 1.4%.

Bear in mind that cost-of-living numbers mean the top 5% and 1% pan out differently depending on where you hang your silk hat. According to a 2022 study by SmartAsset, the top 1% in Connecticut makes about $896,490, whereas in Tennessee you’d only need around half that much ($492,583).

While the income of the top 1% varies, Forbes reported in 2022 that the bracket's minimum net worth is much higher — a cool $11.1 million.

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What's the average American's income?

Pew Research Center statistics show that for middle class Americans, average incomes jumped from $74,000 in 2010 to about $78,500 in 2016. Today, that figure sits at $90,000.

And sadly, that larger number doesn’t have as much buying power as the 2010 figure did at the time.

Because here’s the kicker: While salaries may have headed up, so has inflation. So even if you’re an American making the average wage, it’s quite likely you’re feeling the pressure to pinch pennies.

There’s one metric, though, where top percentages of another sort are attainable for all: that is, how your income stacks up against job satisfaction and happiness at home.

Sure, it won’t necessarily buy you a yacht (or even a rowboat). But finding a way to balance the two is likely a more direct path to "true" wealth.

More: The best investment apps to boost your income

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Amy Legate-Wolfe Freelance contributor

Amy Legate-Wolfe is an experienced personal finance writer and journalist. She has a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Toronto, a Freelance Writing Certificate in Journalism from the University of Toronto Schools, and a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University. Amy has worked for Huffington Post, CTVNews.ca, CBC, Motley Fool Canada, and Financial Post. She is skilled at analyzing trends and creating content for digital and print platforms. In her free time, Amy enjoys reading and watching British dramas on BritBox. She is a mother and dog-mom to a Wheaten Terrier.


The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.